September 26, 2006
To the editor of the "Faith and Values" section of the Atlanta Journal/Constitution:
Any religion that promotes itself as a universal religion owes the world a solid assurance that it is impossible for the deity to command anyone to commit what that individual recognizes to be a violation of the moral law of universal human dignity and worth.
On behalf of the Christians I propose an icon of such an assurance via John 5 of their scriptures. Here the Christians' Lord consciously violates the recognized law of God as revealed through Moses by refusing to wait until the end of the Sabbath before healing a sick man. For the Christians, therefore, the moral law (Jesus called it the Law of Love) rules over all else that might be ever inferred of God.
If this principle had always found universal application, then not only would the Christians have had less sordid episodes in their own history, but famous Abraham would not have accepted as divine a voice telling him to slay his son or any other innocent person.
Philip McPherson Rudisill
Note: Below is an earlier and more involved draft on this same subject.
Apropos the recent letters concerning mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims, it is exceptionally helpful when a faith is able to present its own moral underpinnings in stark relief, by means of what might be called an icon of its moral core. I think I see such an icon in the scriptures of both the Christian and the Muslim.
The Christian has John 5 where Jesus breaks the law revealed through Moses by not waiting until the sun sets in order to heal a sick man. Jesus is not willing to wait there with the man nor have him try to tag along until the day officially ends, but heals him immediately. In the Christian scriptures, therefore, the moral law of doing good now is superior to anything reportedly said by God to the contrary.
The Muslim has (according to my understanding) an equally vivid icon of its moral core in the high praise and esteem accorded Abraham for his willingness to disregard the moral law against killing the innocent (his son) and to believe that a dreamed voice telling him to do just that might be taken for the voice of God.
In both cases the Christian and the Muslim have some explaining to do concerning these two (Jewish and Arabian) renditions of the Abraham tale. For it has to do with how Abraham, or anyone else for that matter, can tell that some instruction or vision is a work of God and not of some other, supernatural being. Immanuel Kant, who was cited by the Pope in his recent and controversial speech at Regensburg, gave some insight on how to make this determination. Suppose the sky should split before my eyes, Kant reflects, and a being on a high throne appears and tells me to slay an innocent person; I would have to reason in this way: whether what I see is God or not I cannot tell (for it might also be a demon or my own hallucination), but that it is wrong to slay an innocent person is clear to me, and so I cannot comply with this command. In effect, Kant is telling us, a faith must be understood and interpreted first of all in a moral way, for only so is anyone warranted in believing that the faith is of a divine origin. At least it is the only certain way that we can tell that it is not the work of a rational and clever demon.
Now both the Christian and the Muslim are obliged to account to the world for the apparent disregard of the moral law on the part of Abraham. I propose doing this for the Christians by utilizing the Palmquist solution which draws upon an analogy with a magicians assistant. The assistant doesnt know how the magician does his trick, but he knows it is a trick and that the apparent "victim" is not in danger. Likewise Abraham doesnt know how God will do his "trick," but one thing is certain for him: since his son (Isaac in the Jewish tale) is a child of promise, as yet unfulfilled, nothing Abraham can do will hurt the lad perhaps the knife will shatter. Today anyone thinking like this would, of course, be considered a lunatic, but it does serve the Christian in dealing with an otherwise morally embarrassing scripture.
It is now the turn of the Muslim to do the same with the Arabian tale of Abraham (and consequently bereft of the help of the "as yet unfulfilled promise" and without utilizing the son's reported acquiescence as a justification for any immoral undertaking).
It is only in this way, by demonstrating clearly the moral fundamental of each faith, that the world can ever be assured that neither the Christian nor the Muslim will ever be permitted to believe that a divine command or guidance would call for the slaying of an innocent person, or any other immoral act. Then the world will have the authority and confidence to tell Christians and Muslims alike, "your own scripture proscribes such thinking and accordingly you cannot justify any immoral act through appeal to your faith. And therefore if you do them, you are neither Christian nor Muslim."